“A Cloud Overshadowed Them…”
While we were sleeping, a heavy fog settled in over our neighborhood. Looking out my front door, I could only see part way down the street ahead of us.
It created a mysteriously appropriate image for the equally mysterious story of the Transfiguration, the traditional gospel reading for the last Sunday before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.
The gospel writers tell us that while Jesus was praying, “the appearance of his face changed and his clothes flashed white like lightening.” Moses and Elijah, the greatest figures of the Old Testament, appeared with Jesus, equally “clothed in heavenly splendor.” Together they talked about the way Jesus would fulfill God’s calling in his life by following the way that would lead to a cross.
Don’t ask me to explain that! We can’t explain it, but we can experience it!
In our own finite way, we experience those inexplicable moments of glory when we sense that we are in the equally inexplicable presence of God. We can’t create or manufacture them but we can be open to experience them. That is, in fact, what the discipline of prayer is about. Prayer is not about getting what we want from God, but about preparing ourselves to experience what God wants for us and for our world. It’s about the way we set the direction our lives will follow. (Luke 9:51-54)
Sadly, we are all too often like Peter, James and John who were “almost overcome by sleep” and just barely managed to be awake to experience it. Like Rip Van Winkle who slept through the American Revolution, we can become so accustomed to the way things are that we fail to discover the way God intends for things to be. Like Peter, we can be so busy talking when we don’t know what we’re talking about (Luke 9:33-34) that we fail to hear what God might be saying to us.
But then, Luke says, “a cloud overshadowed them.”
The word “overshadowed” caught my attention. That’s the word Luke used when the angel responded to Mary’s very legitimate question about how she, being a virgin, would conceive and bear a son. “The Holy Spirit will come over you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” (Luke 1:35)
For most of us some of the time (and some of us most of the time), living by faith means being overshadowed by a cloud, which sounds to me like being lost in the fog. There are things we’d like to explain that continue to be inexplicable. We know the direction we want to go, but may not be completely sure of how to get there. Just about the time we think we know what we’re talking about, we run into things that leave us speechless.
Listen to him!
Lost in a cloud and unable to see the road ahead, the disciples heard a voice say, “This is my Son. Listen to him!” (Luke 9:35) That was it. But that was enough. And it still is!
I don’t need all the answers to all my questions. I don’t have to have all the things I want. I don’t need to see every wrong righted, every injustice overcome, every evil defeated, though I need to invest myself in helping making that happen. It’s enough for me to listen, really listen, to what Jesus said. If I deeply listen to the words Jesus spoke, I’ll have enough to guide me through the cloud. I’ll have more challenges than I could have imagined along with more glimpses of glory than I ever could have created or deserved. And having listened, to obey.
Frankly, my problem is not with the things Jesus said that I don’t understand, though I have plenty of them! My problem is with the things Jesus said that I understand all too clearly but would prefer not to obey. Try listening to Jesus’ words that precede the Transfiguration: Jesus said to everyone, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow me. All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me will save them. What advantage do people have if they gain the whole world for themselves yet perish or lose their lives? Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who bore witness to Christ under the shadow of Hitler’s power just as the people in Ukraine are suffering under Putin’s invasion, was unambiguously clear that the call for anyone who wants to follow Jesus is “do the commandment you know … Go and be obedient in acts of love.” (Discipleship, p. 76)
Overcome or Overshadowed?
By the time I finished writing this message, the sun had come out, the fog had cleared, and I could see my way again. It happens.
But In the end, it looks like I get to choose: I can be “overcome by sleep” or I can wake up to being “overshadowed by the Spirit.” It’s all about listening to Jesus, and that’s enough.
I love the old English hymn, Lead, Kindly Light, which simply prays:
Keep thou my feet, I do not ask to see
The distant scene, one step enough for me.
Our pastor always concludes his sermons by asking, “How about you?”
Grace and peace,